Prehistoric Art: The Upper Paleolithic Revolution


The Upper Paleolithic or Late Stone Age begins and ends with a revolution. The first one is what can be considered the ‘official’ appearance of art, some 50,000 years ago. The second, the invention of agriculture, 40,000 years later.

Venus of Hohlen FelsThe earliest sample of Paleolithic art is the shells with holes and chipped edge modifications from Ksar Akil. These flakes show regular teeth distributed at frequent intervals, and are believed to have been used as pendants or beads.

However, a deeply fascinating example of early art is the beautiful German Venus of Hohle Fels (image). Made with ivory and mammoth tusk,  this Cro-Magnon beauty  is the oldest undisputed example of human figurative prehistoric art yet discovered. Also worth mentioning, from the same region and around the same time, the fascinating lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, the oldest known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world.

We might never know how our very early ancestors chose to express their thoughts, feelings and fears, as there is no physical evidence of the things they created, apart from their beautiful yet relatively simple flint artifacts. What we do know, however, is that 50,000 years ago climate changes – mainly temperature drops – generated a mark increase in the diversity of materials they could use.

A curious fact: Flint becomes brittle at low temperatures, rendering it useless as a tool. It’s believed timber might have also been scarce. And so the experimenting began, and clay, bone, antler, stone and ivory became the stars of the Upper Palaeolithic.


Beatriz Aurora: The art of the resistance


Beatriz Aurora calls her drawings “painted stories”, and her subjects definitely have a lot to tell.

The Chilean artist had to exile to Spain during the 70s. She knew she couldn’t go back to Chile, but there were other places in Latin America that could use her art, so from Spain she travelled to Nicaragua, then to El Salvador and finally settled in Mexico.

0fbd32ade98729362e02ce1670ca93fdIn the 90s, and when some stated we had reached the ‘end of history’ and the ‘end of ideologies’, others decided that a different kind of society was possible. From 1994 the Zapatistas had been building a self-sufficient community based on equality, respect for nature and love. Beatriz quickly joined them, and soon she became the brush and color of the EZLN*.

Her stories tell about the men and women of Chiapas (the birth place of the movement), mostly of mayan descent. They are simple, cheerful and positive, like the Zapatistas like to describe themselves, and usually include messages written in a beautiful semi-childish calligraphy: ‘We can produce without destroying the world’, or ‘Come dance with us’.

When asked if she is calls herself a revolutionary, Beatriz answers: “Anyone who loves nature has to be a revolutionary, has to be against multinationals that destroy our world“. Beatriz Aurora gave the Zapatistas a colorful voice, one that is only theirs. A beautiful reminder that freedom, independence and dignity are still something worth fighting for.

* Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, or Zapatista Army of National Liberation

Early utopian imagery, memories of no places


Utopias. The no-places.

I’ve always been attracted by them. The first utopia ever written could have been Plato’s Republic. Or the Genesis. However, the first one I discovered was Thomas More’s Utopia. I still can’t believe it was written 498 years ago, in 1516.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner left wing (Paradise). Date: between 1480 and 1505. Source: Wikipedia

The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner left wing (Paradise).
Date: between 1480 and 1505. Source: Wikipedia

Utopia is a strange book. Most scholars agree it’s a satire, a criticism of contemporary European society. However, there is something that puzzles everyone: Thomas More was a devout member of the Catholic Church, but his Utopian views on divorce, euthanasia and priests marriage all contradict these beliefs.

The word itself is a treat: Utopia (Οὐτοπία) means good (ευ), not (οὐ) and place (topos, τόπος), but it also has the suffix -iā (-ία) that is used in toponyms (names of places). So it’s “good-no-place” as well as “good-place-land“… and my favourite: “no-place-place”.

More’s Utopia is placed in the New World, and is told through a traveller named Raphael. Here’s something interesting about it, especially if you consider the time: There is no private property on Utopia. Well, except for slaves. Everyone (else) works and lives equally (and women mostly do household chores…). People seem to live together in harmony, though. Hospitals are free, there is no unemployment. There are multiple religions in Utopia, although atheists are allowed but despised: “They don’t believe in any punishment or reward after this life, they have no reason to share the communistic life of Utopia, and will break the laws for their own gain”.

More’s work gave utopias a name. After him came many more. Sir Francis Bacon wrote New Atlantis in 1624, and described a future for humanity of discovery and knowledge. Bacon’s Utopia is about generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit.  In 1602, an Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet called Tommasso Campanella described his City of the Sun, a theocratic society where goods, women and children are held in common.

There are all kinds of utopias. Scientific and technological ones often refer to the absence of death and suffering, and to changes in human nature (Star Trek is one of them!). There are also feminist utopias, and religious utopias. And there are dystopias, undesirable or frightening societies.

Most of the early utopian books mentioned before were accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Illustrations were, after all, a way of visualizing imaginary worlds.

Some utopian imagery of these intriguing no-place-places: